Scientists are one step closer to building a tooth from scratch, having discovered a new marker from dental stem cells.
Researchers Irma Thesleff's group at the Institute of Biotechnology in Helsinki, Finland, say a detailed recipe to instruct cells to differentiate towards proper lineages and form dental cells is needed. Prof Thesleff's team have now found a marker for dental stem cells; they showed that the transcription factor Sox2 is specifically expressed in stem cells of a mouse front tooth.
Despite the development of new bioengineering protocols, building a tooth from stem cells remains a distant goal. Demand for it exists as loss of teeth affects oral health, quality of life, as well as appearance
The mouse incisor grows continuously throughout life and this growth is fueled by stem cells located at the base of the tooth. These cells offered an excellent model for the research team to study dental stem cells. The group developed a method to record the division, movement, and specification of the cells and, by tracing the descendants of genetically labeled cells, they were able to determine that Sox2 positive stem cells give rise to enamel-forming ameloblasts as well as other cell lineages of the tooth.
Although human teeth don’t grow continuously, the mechanisms that control and regulate their growth are similar to mouse teeth. Therefore, the discovery of Sox2 as a marker for dental stem cells is an important step toward developing a complete bioengineered tooth. In the future, it may be possible to grow new teeth from stem cells to replace lost ones, says researcher Emma Juuri, a co-author of the study.